London Tech Week 2017 overwhelmingly optimistic about AI, survey reveals

Posted: 6 July 2017 | By Charlie Moloney

92% of tech professionals take a positive view on the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) and robots into the workforce, according to the results of a survey carried out at this year’s London Technology Week (12th – 16th June) by the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB).

The SVB’s UK team surveyed 109 tech enthusiasts and business leaders across the entire technology industry, and found that the vast majority (85%) of them feel that increased automation will improve the UK economy within the next five years.

The SVB provides targeted financial services and expertise to technology and life science businesses through its office in the UK, and they conducted this survey out of a sense that there is a hunger for information on AI.

No clear consensus on job losses

“This was an opportunity for us to speak to high-level people in our sector and get their opinion”, said Tom Butterworth, Managing Director of SVB’s Early Stage Practice, who said he thinks automation will improve the UK economy.

The SVB’s findings contrast with Dr Kai-Fu Lee’s view that AI will lead to “enormous wealth concentrated in relatively few hands”, “enormous numbers of people out of work”, and “unprecedented economic inequalities”, which he expressed in the New York Times last month.

Kai-Fu Lee said that “Bank tellers, customer service representatives, telemarketers, stock and bond traders”, “paralegals and radiologists”, “factory workers, construction workers, drivers, delivery workers”, and more will be redundant.

There is no clear consensus on job losses in the SVB survey results. 20% of the SVB’s respondents, when asked ‘How will the introduction of automation/robots affect the UK job market?’ answered that ‘it will reduce opportunities’. 21% answered that automation will increase job opportunities.

“It depends on which way you look at it”, suggested Butterworth, in an attempt to explain the lack of a uniform response to this question, whilst there was so much agreement on others.

Some respondents, Butterworth felt, may have been thinking only about the AI and robotics industry, where “we’re seeing investments pouring in”. He said, “if you’re looking more broadly you might be seeing the headlines surrounding job losses in semi-skilled sectors, such as the impact self-driving cars might have on delivery”.

The vast majority of respondents in the SVB survey felt that up to 40% of their company’s output could be automated within the next five years, but only 2% felt that they could go totally automated, and a fifth of those surveyed said that growing mechanisation will create new job opportunities.


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